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Playing without a drummer


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#1 bootleg

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Posted 14 March 2017 - 10:06 PM

I play mostly jazz and Latin standards usually with a drummer. Occasionally we rehearse and do the odd show without the drummer. I do find it a challenge without, to be honest.

Any tips for surviving this? I do wish the horn section tried to contribute to the groove when not soloing or playing the tune. Or is it all my responsibility?

#2 MoonBassAlpha

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Posted 14 March 2017 - 10:22 PM

Can't you get them to chip in with some shaker, Guiro or cleave action?
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#3 grandad

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Posted 14 March 2017 - 11:05 PM

I play in a jazz quartet with no drummer, just sax, trumpet, rhythm guitar and bass guitar. When the drummer left about 6 mths ago I was apprehensive as to whether I would be able to manage to keep good time and also whether the whole sound of the band would be too thin.

There is no where to hide with so few instruments and my concentration has improved and I think my timing. The overall sound is different now, lighter and cleaner. Some tunes wouldn't work without drums but most we seem to adapt.

We've played about 1/2 a dozen times in public to favourable response. Think easy-listening/chill-out/background rather than a show. At my age I do enjoy being seated behind my music stand to rest my bones and aid my memory.

Stick with it and enjoy something a bit different, good luck.

Edited by grandad, 14 March 2017 - 11:08 PM.

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Posted 14 March 2017 - 11:29 PM

View Postbootleg, on 14 March 2017 - 10:06 PM, said:

I play mostly jazz and Latin standards usually with a drummer. Occasionally we rehearse and do the odd show without the drummer. I do find it a challenge without, to be honest.

Any tips for surviving this? I do wish the horn section tried to contribute to the groove when not soloing or playing the tune. Or is it all my responsibility?

My trio of violin, keyboards and bass depends on me to set the time and keep the rhythm steady. This I can do, and I try; the problem is that our driver, the keyboard player, seldom listens, often plunging ahead, speeding up and putting us out of whack.

The key is listening, and that seldom happens. No matter how many times we discuss it, it still happens. I don't know if there is a remedy. I don't want to spend my time just playing traffic cop, but if I don't, the music suffers. It's a bitch.
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#5 grandad

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Posted 15 March 2017 - 01:13 AM

View PostWylie, on 14 March 2017 - 11:29 PM, said:

My trio of violin, keyboards and bass depends on me to set the time and keep the rhythm steady. This I can do, and I try; the problem is that our driver, the keyboard player, seldom listens, often plunging ahead, speeding up and putting us out of whack.

The key is listening, and that seldom happens. No matter how many times we discuss it, it still happens. I don't know if there is a remedy. I don't want to spend my time just playing traffic cop, but if I don't, the music suffers. It's a bitch.

Same thing here with a lead guitarist that I jam with at my music club. Being mostly a wannabe bedroom player he lacks the experience of playing as a team-member. He can't relax and listen, always ahead of the beat, drives me mad. I think bass players tend to understand the importance of intervals fairly early on. Why do some folks try and cram as many notes into as shorter time as possible I know not. Less is often more.
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#6 bazztard

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Posted 15 March 2017 - 05:03 AM

you ARE the timekeeper! you always were but didn't realise it :)

It is hard to come up with original basslines when there isn't a drummer to bounce off, but you already know your basslines so u just need a little help.

Give the horn players one of those tambourines that strap to their ankle so they can tap a beat
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Posted 15 March 2017 - 08:19 AM

Just focus on the pulse and make sure you understand the relationship between what you are playing and where it sits in the overall performance. I love playing without drums as it allows for more finesse in my own phrasing.
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#8 casapete

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Posted 15 March 2017 - 09:35 AM

View PostBilbo, on 15 March 2017 - 08:19 AM, said:

Just focus on the pulse and make sure you understand the relationship between what you are playing and where it sits in the overall performance. I love playing without drums as it allows for more finesse in my own phrasing.


This.

I love playing in my acoustic duo where the tempos & feel of the song are not overly governed by
a drummer. Quieter too :-)

Edited by casapete, 15 March 2017 - 09:35 AM.


#9 tinyd

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Posted 15 March 2017 - 09:52 AM

I agree with most of the above in that playing without a drummer can be a good thing, but @MoonBassAlpha's suggestion is worth considering - in a lot of Latin bands the horn players will often play hand percussion when they're not soloing. It depends though on how rhythmically competent they are - it's surprisingly hard to play clave properly, especially if there aren't any other percussion instruments.

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Posted 15 March 2017 - 09:54 AM

I hated playing without a drummer in the bluegrass quintet I was briefly with.

Unless someone else is a rhythm player you're swimming against the tide.
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Posted 15 March 2017 - 10:06 AM

View Postcasapete, on 15 March 2017 - 09:35 AM, said:

This.

I love playing in my acoustic duo where the tempos & feel of the song are not overly governed by
a drummer. Quieter too :-)

This is my favourite thing. Keeping it simple.
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Posted 15 March 2017 - 10:08 AM

Yes, my acoustic trio has no percussionist, so I keep time. I see it as an itneresting challenge, although as has been pointed out above, the bassist can also be the main timekeeper when you have a wandering drummer ;-)
Funnily enough, I found the more defined bottom end of my solid electric basses much better for this than my e/a bass, even though it looks more the part for the acoustic trio.
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#13 DorsetBlue

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Posted 15 March 2017 - 10:32 AM

My Rock and Roll band has been without a drummer for about a year, not by choice though. We have drum tracks for each song, played from the guitarists looper pedal. Its not the same though and is fun with songs with moments of silence - getting everyone to come back in on the right beat.
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#14 bootleg

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Posted 15 March 2017 - 12:15 PM

View PostMoonBassAlpha, on 14 March 2017 - 10:22 PM, said:

Can't you get them to chip in with some shaker, Guiro or cleave action?

I will try suggesting this again! Ironically, the trumpet player is an accomplished drummer, yet resists any suggestions to play percussion.

#15 bootleg

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Posted 15 March 2017 - 12:36 PM

View Postgrandad, on 14 March 2017 - 11:05 PM, said:

I play in a jazz quartet with no drummer, just sax, trumpet, rhythm guitar and bass guitar. When the drummer left about 6 mths ago I was apprehensive as to whether I would be able to manage to keep good time and also whether the whole sound of the band would be too thin.

There is no where to hide with so few instruments and my concentration has improved and I think my timing. The overall sound is different now, lighter and cleaner. Some tunes wouldn't work without drums but most we seem to adapt.

We've played about 1/2 a dozen times in public to favourable response. Think easy-listening/chill-out/background rather than a show. At my age I do enjoy being seated behind my music stand to rest my bones and aid my memory.

Stick with it and enjoy something a bit different, good luck.

There is more clarity without the drummer, and I see it as an opportunity to improve, but there is certainly nowhere to hide, just the relentlessness of being the sole time keeper. I have been working on my time, and tbh the drummer often challenges the timekeeping, so that's once less cat to herd. I feel stronger with straight swing, it's the Latin tunes I struggle with, especially those with little harmonic movement.

Should I be working on rhythmic ghost notes? How do I drive rhythmic and dynamic variations without the drummer? Should I play more simply or embellish my playing to make it more interesting?

#16 bootleg

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Posted 15 March 2017 - 12:41 PM

View Postbazztard, on 15 March 2017 - 05:03 AM, said:

you ARE the timekeeper! you always were but didn't realise it :)

It is hard to come up with original basslines when there isn't a drummer to bounce off, but you already know your basslines so u just need a little help.

Give the horn players one of those tambourines that strap to their ankle so they can tap a beat

You're right of course. And I realise that, just I end up so concentrated I find my basslines lack variation in dynamics or interest, as you say, no drummer to bounce off. And it sounds dull, especially Latin songs with long stretches of the same chord. Swing and harmonically interesting songs work better for me.

#17 bootleg

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Posted 15 March 2017 - 12:43 PM

View PostBilbo, on 15 March 2017 - 08:19 AM, said:

Just focus on the pulse and make sure you understand the relationship between what you are playing and where it sits in the overall performance. I love playing without drums as it allows for more finesse in my own phrasing.

I'm getting more comfortable with keeping the pulse, it's keeping things interesting as I've said else-thread.

#18 bootleg

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Posted 15 March 2017 - 12:48 PM

View PostMickeyboro, on 15 March 2017 - 09:54 AM, said:

I hated playing without a drummer in the bluegrass quintet I was briefly with.

Unless someone else is a rhythm player you're swimming against the tide.

There's the guitarist, but he's comping and such like, doesn't feel like support. I'd describe it like treading water, there is no flow to go against or with. That sounds like my fault,

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Posted 15 March 2017 - 02:58 PM

In my little black book where I record these things I see that, during my long stint as a double bass botherer, I have played with round about 60 different drummers. A few have been a bit dire, the great majority have been great to play with and some have been nothing short of inspirational. A bell curve if you will. I don't like a drummer who's heavy on the kick drum anymore than I do a keyboard player who is down the bottom of the scale a lot. But my preference is always to play with a drummer, he can provide the forward direction while I can surf the pulse above him. A good piano bass drum rhythm section always makes me smile.

But I am finding these days that a lot of my work is without drums, due to tightened economics or the need for a smaller, quieter group. I'm happy enough to do it but a different technique on the bass is needed; I have a greater responsibility for keeping time so my playing has to be that much more rigid. And I can't do it all on my own, I need the guitar and/keys to help out with the rhythm and they don't always 'get' this.

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Posted 15 March 2017 - 03:46 PM

It's down to you. Always come in on time - Never late.


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Posted 15 March 2017 - 04:16 PM

Time-keeping is everyone's responsibility, not just the drummer's.

Get an electronic metronome for rehearsals, and plug in to the PA via a volume pedal. Keep it loud to start with, turn down as the band gets better at staying in time.

#22 grandad

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Posted 15 March 2017 - 06:43 PM

View Postbootleg, on 15 March 2017 - 12:36 PM, said:

There is more clarity without the drummer, and I see it as an opportunity to improve, but there is certainly nowhere to hide, just the relentlessness of being the sole time keeper. I have been working on my time, and tbh the drummer often challenges the timekeeping, so that's once less cat to herd. I feel stronger with straight swing, it's the Latin tunes I struggle with, especially those with little harmonic movement. Should I be working on rhythmic ghost notes? How do I drive rhythmic and dynamic variations without the drummer? Should I play more simply or embellish my playing to make it more interesting?

It depends on the feel of the tune itself. When I first played with a jazz quintet about 18 months ago,(and I came from a 50's/60's/70's covers band), with no formal music training, I could only manage the root note on the bar for most tunes or a root and 5th. And some tunes still only demand just that e.g. Blue Monk. But I persevered and manage to come up with something that fits by listening to the numbers on Youtube or CD, though I often can't follow what the virtuoso bassists are doing as they sound all over the place. But I'm now using the dusty end of the fret-board more and more.

Electric bass I think shouldn't necessarily try to imitate an upright. It has it's own voice. For instance at the beginning of 'Moon River' I play open A and let it sustain then E, (upper 5th), and let that ring with a slow tempo. And that complements the trumpet who does a great job with the voice. The rhythm guitar matches me.

Starting to learn walking bass lines will be a slow never-ending challenge for me but I'm chuffed to bits when I nail one. So I reckon there's no rule to follow just experiment till something fits and sounds good. Oh, get a good music stand.

Please note that my advice is coming from a self-taught who didn't pick up a bass till aged 50+ and as such could be a bit iffy!

P.S. For the Latin numbers the Trumpet or Sax will play a tambourine.

Edited by grandad, 15 March 2017 - 06:47 PM.

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#23 Marty Forrer

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Posted 15 March 2017 - 07:46 PM

Time and feel is the responsibility of the whole band, not just the bassist. However, in real world terms, it often falls to the bassist to set the standard. You do this by being strong, by setting the tempo in strong, determined quarter notes or clave, and sticking to your guns. I'm a martinet when it comes to this. If a drummer or keyboard player is speeding up I stand my ground and they mostly will always hear it and pull back. If they don't I make mental note to not play with that person again. Tumbao absolutely needs to keep great time, and if the player is not cutting it, ditch them! Life is too short to not be enjoying your music.

#24 Phil Starr

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Posted 15 March 2017 - 07:59 PM

Probably not relevant to all types of music but I find playing bass with a guitarist/singer in my covers duo that I end up playing the drum rhythm more often than the bass rhythm and end up varying the attack on each beat more than when playing with a drummer. Making the 1 and 3 stand out in one song and shifting to the 2 and 4 in something else if that makes sense.

#25 Kevin Dean

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Posted 17 March 2017 - 10:57 PM

One of my bands have been dropped in it more than once by the drummer not turning up, & rather than cancel a gig would you use a pre programmed drum machine ? Or just use one for a basic tempo or cancel ? any suggestions .

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Posted 18 March 2017 - 08:16 AM

View PostKevin Dean, on 17 March 2017 - 10:57 PM, said:

One of my bands have been dropped in it more than once by the drummer not turning up, & rather than cancel a gig would you use a pre programmed drum machine ? Or just use one for a basic tempo or cancel ? any suggestions .
Hi Kevin, my experience is that you certainly shouldn't try it without a lot of rehearsal. In the absence of a drummer I've been rehearsing with a singer/guitarist and programmed drums. It was OK ish until we got a second guitarist and then the mistakes multiplied. You'd be surprised how often playing live a mistake is covered up by playing an extra beat or an extra bar, you can't do that with pre programmed drums. I reckon every third song failed to end on beat. Playing to a recorded track is a skill in itself and needs to be learned.

#27 casapete

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Posted 18 March 2017 - 08:44 AM

One night with my country band, the dep drummer didn't turn up, due to a previous
altercation with the landlord , something to do with their girlfriends...
( The guitarist was also a dep, leaving just 50% of the original band! )
I found this out just before leaving for the gig. A few attempts at getting a dep drummer
drew a blank, so I had to break it to the rest of the band what had happened when I arrived.
Anyway, after a quick discussion we decided to do the gig, and of course it turned out great. Without drums many
of the songs took on a fresh identity, and even the more rocky stuff went down well, full dance floor etc.
I think our regular audience admired us for having a go too. From my point of view it was challenging but
also liberating at the same time, and made me realise it's not just the drums that people listen to when dancing.

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Posted 18 March 2017 - 08:49 AM

How about having the odd 'rhythm section' rehearsal with just you and the guitarist? Ask him if he wants to get together to really lock down the grooves of the Latin tunes. If the two of you work out some really solid interlocking parts that you can fall back on, both of you can improvise around them as and when you see fit, but if you ever feel like things are going a bit flat, you'll have something pre-arranged to fall back on.
I would also work on the micro-detail of each of your own basslines, getting the feel exactly right and adding in some little ghost-note / passing note details, so that they stand up on their own when the rest of the band goes a bit quiet.

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Posted 18 March 2017 - 08:52 AM

I was wondering if even setting a tempo with deadened note on a loop would help or make it worse ?

#30 chris_b

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Posted 18 March 2017 - 12:18 PM

In a band everyone should be playing in time. There should be no timekeeper.

As has been said, embrace the spaces. Enjoy the clean uncluttered and fluid sound.
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